Tomorrow is the first day of October, and you know what that means, writers…
No, not the return of pumpkin spice everything.
For those who are wondering what the big deal is, Preptober is the key to your NaNoWriMo success or failure.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo twice. The first time, I was a super-busy homeschooling mama, and I hit the 50,000 word mark in just 18 days. The second time around, I was officially retired from homeschooling and had oodles of time on my hands…yet my word count fizzled out at 27,000. So what was the difference between the two?
Fifty thousand words in thirty days breaks down to 1667 words…Every. Single. Day. And if you have any hope of pulling this off, then preparation is the key. So to kick off my Preptober series, I’m sharing my Preptober Checklist…thirteen easy (okay, some aren’t so easy) steps to help you start your NaNoWriMo journey on the right foot.
Download and print the checklist below then read on for a few notes about each step.
Set Your Goal
The official goal of NaNoWriMo is, of course, to write fifty thousand words in the month of November. But your project should also have a more personal, overarching goal.
- Are you using NaNo as a writing exercise to flex your creative muscles?
- Does your story have a purpose (such as to increase awareness of a medical condition or promote an ideal you believe in)?
- Do you hope to turn your NaNo project into a published novel?
Remembering the reason you’re writing this book will keep you going when you just feel like you have. No. More. Words. “Winning” NaNoWriMo is an ambitious goal, to be sure, but setting a personal goal will help you keep your eyes on the real prize.
Sign up for NaNoWriMo
Go to the NaNoWriMo website and create an account (or sign into your existing one). In your dashboard, click on “create new project” and follow the prompts to enter your title, set your goal, and link the project to NaNoWriMo 2020.
Join the Work in Progress NaNoWriMo Facebook Group
When you tackle a challenge as tough as NaNoWriMo, having the support and accountability of a group of peers can be the key to your success. With this in mind, I’ve created a private Work in Progress NaNoWriMo Group on Facebook!
To join, go to the Work in Progress NaNoWriMo Group and click the “Join Now” button. Once your application is approved, post an introduction to tell the group a little about yourself and your NaNo project.
Shout it from the Rooftops
Now that you’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, it’s time to spread the news. Announcing your NaNo goal rallies your own personal cheerleading squad to applaud you every step of the way, and knowing others are watching can keep you motivated when the going gets tough.
So take a few minutes to tell the world that you’re participating in NaNoWriMo 2020. From the NaNo Prep 101 page, download the official NaNoWriMo 2020 badges and banners (like the one above). Then plaster your announcement everywhere you can to let your peeps know your plans. The more eyes you have on you, the more likely you’ll be to reach your daily word count goals and, ultimately, to hit that magical 50k mark.
Brainstorm Story Ideas
If you’re like most writers, then chances are good you already have several story ideas waiting in the wings. But if you don’t already have a project in mind for NaNoWriMo, then now is the time to start brainstorming.
If this step leaves your brain reeling rather than “storming,” then mark your calendar for next week’s post, where I’ll share ideas for how to choose a NaNo project that’ll hold your interest all month long.
Create Your Cast of Characters
Once you know what your story is about, it’s time to decide who it will be about. Not sure where to start? Check out this post about how to create characters your readers will love.
And to help you get to know your characters inside and out, download and print my Character Creation Worksheet. This four-page worksheet will help you flesh out your characters and get to know them on the deepest level. Filling out a Character Creation Worksheet for each of your major characters will require an investment of your time and energy, but this is not a step you should skim over! The better you know your characters, the more real they’ll feel to your readers and the easier they’ll be for you to write. And when it comes to NaNoWriMo, anything that makes the writing easier is a godsend!
Outline…Then Outline Some More
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Pantsers prefer to write by the seat of their pants, letting their creativity take the reins. Plotters, on the other hand, outline their novels down to the smallest detail before writing a word, believing this preparation actually unlocks their creativity.
If you’re a pantser who’s only participating in NaNoWriMo for the fun of it, then your usual free-wheeling approach is just fine. But if you hope to do something with your newly-birthed manuscript when NaNo is over, then I strongly suggest you become a plotter and outline your novel in advance. Yes, discovering your characters and plot while you’re writing can be exhilarating…but, trust me, rewriting the whole thing afterward is not. And if you pants your way through NaNoWriMo, then you can look forward to DecReWriMo…December ReWriting Month, which usually stretches into January, February, March…
If your outlining game needs a little boost, then check out K.M. Weiland’s excellent book, Outlining Your Novel, Map Your Way to Success and the companion Outlining Your Novel Workbook, which guides you step by step through her outlining process. (I used this combo to outline Kaleidoscope, and it improved the story dramatically!) I’ve also used the Outlining Your Novel digital workbook (available for PC or Mac), which follows the same outlining format as the book but in an easy-to-follow computer program you can use again and again.
Do Your Research
If your novel requires any background research, then getting it done now will help keep the words flowing in November. Does your MC suffer from alopecia? Then research the condition, treatments, how it affects those who live with it, etc. Is the novel set in the late 1800’s? Study the time period and take copious notes to refer to as you write.
If you’re building your own world for NaNoWriMo (to which I can only say WOW!), then you’re going to want to check out World Anvil. This website for fantasy writers, gamers, and other creatives offers a whole suite of worldbuilding tools…for free!
Clear Your Schedule
If you have a lot of plates spinning in your life—kids, work, homeschooling, managing a household, training lions—then clearing your November schedule may be a monumental task. But squeezing a huge undertaking like NaNoWriMo into an already-crazy schedule can increase your stress level exponentially and set you up for NaNo failure.
Clearing your calendar as much as possible will reduce that stress and help you reach your word count goals. Reschedule any appointments, postpone your weekly brunches with your girlfriends, and set your DVR to record your favorite shows (you can always catch up in December). Every item you remove from your November schedule frees up time for you to write, and even thirty minutes here and there will make a big difference in your final word count.
Create a Storyboard on Pinterest
This step is so…much…fun! In your Pinterest account, create a new board for your NaNoWriMo project. This will be your visual storyboard, where you can collect images related to your novel: what your characters look like, hairstyles and outfits they would wear, their cars/houses/pets, etc. Having visuals like these helps you dive into the world of your story and can make writing descriptions of your characters and settings easier.
To give you an idea of what you can add to your storyboard, here’s the one I created for Kaleidoscope.
If you don’t have a Pinterest account, then what the hey?? Go sign up for one now. It’s completely free (and highly addicting).
Create a Writing Space
If you don’t already have one, create a private, peaceful writing space where you’ll be able to tune out the rest of the world and focus on your writing. Include things that put you in a writing mood, such as scented candles, an essential oil diffuser, a plant or flower arrangement, soft lighting, inspirational posters, etc.
No privacy? No problem. Get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. (I use this budget-friendly set.) Headphones with “active noise-cancelling” magically (I seriously don’t know how they do it!) block ambient noise in the room to help you focus on the work in front of you. And to block out even more external sound, you can turn on ANC and stream your favorite playlist into your ears at the same time, which will up your writing game wherever you choose to write.
Prep a NaNo Survival Kit
NaNoWriMo is exhilarating…but it’s also a stressful, hair-pulling time-suck. And when you still have a thousand words to write before bed, you won’t have time to whip up a plate of nachos to satisfy your nightly craving for ooey-gooey carbs. (Or is that just me??) So pull together a NaNo Survival Kit that will help you keep your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard.
The contents of your kit will depend on what makes you tick, but here are a few of my faves:
- Special coffees or teas — this Stash tea sampler is amazing!
- Grab-and-go healthy snacks — nuts, dark chocolate, granola bars, cheese sticks, etc.
- Gum — any flavor will do, but peppermint boosts your brainpower
- Electrolyte water — to keep you hydrated and hold leg cramps at bay
- Fidget spinner — this seems weird, I know, but fidget toys relieve stress and help those of us with ADD brains concentrate
- Your favorite playlist — I listen to white noise (like this rain sounds playlist) while I write
Sugary treats like cakes and candies may seem like a great go-to for energy, but they come with the inevitable sugar crash and can leave you with brain fog. And brain fog will kill your word count.
Plan Menus & Prep Meals
If you’re not the member of the household responsible for keeping everyone else alive, then you can probably skip this step. But if you DO have a house full of little humans who rely on you for sustenance, then planning your menus and prepping meals ahead of time will not only help you reach your daily word count goals, but it will also save your sanity.
The first year I did NaNo, I created a menu and weekly shopping lists for the entire month of November, and having meals planned and/or prepped ahead of time was a godsend! My post on October 14th will go into much more detail about meal planning and prep, so stay tuned for that!
Your turn, my friend…
Do you already have your NaNoWriMo project picked out? Tell me about it in the comments below!
Next week, we’ll talk about how to come up with story ideas for your NaNo novel. Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!
In case you missed it: Last week, I shared my picks for The Best Novel Writing Software of 2020 (including one that’s FREE)! If you missed it, click the link to check it out.